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Parents, students rally to open the schools

Holding handmade signs that read “Education over Fear” and “Distance Learning is not Learning,” about two-dozen parents and students of all ages gathered at Petaluma High School on Tuesday evening. They were frustrated by what they say has been a lack of response and guidance from the Petaluma City Schools District leadership team in making plans to get kids back to campus.

“This is unacceptable, it’s been a year,” said parent Jamie Fowler. “Why can’t they learn on the playground?”

Another parent added, “If they can set up tents for people to eat outside, why can’t they do that for schools?”

The group made the short walk from the high school on Fair Street to the District Office a block away on Douglas Street. It was planned before the weekly school board meeting, although the board has been meeting on Zoom during the pandemic. Encouraged by parents, some students shoved their signs in the crack between the double doors to the office.

Parents talked about the impact of distance learning on their kids. “This is my daughter, she’s a great student, but she’s teaching herself,” Sumaya Mughannam said of her Petaluma High School student. “We need a better way.”

Will Soper’s 16-year-old daughter is doing well learning from home, he said, “but many students are not. The depression, the stress, it’s a lot.”

The loosely-knit group were not part of an organized effort, they said. No one claimed ownership over the digital event flier that was circulated called “Kids in Classrooms” which included, “Bring signs in support of being back in classrooms, missing teachers, missing sports, etc. Nothing political or protest-like, just a public showing that students will be happier and healthier on campus.”

The march came four days after Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven D. Herrington released a letter outlining plans to vaccinate teachers and school staff, to get kids back to the classroom.

“If all goes well, on Monday, Feb. 8, we will begin administering COVID-19 vaccines to school employees. This will launch our effort to vaccinate 17,000 licensed childcare providers and preschools, TK-12 educators, support staff and higher education staff throughout the county,” it read. “While vaccines are only one part of a multi-pronged effort to reopen schools, they are a critical piece of the puzzle. They represent an important step forward in helping school staff feel safe to return to in-person learning. During our first week of vaccinations, we hope to give about 1,100 vaccinations. We hope to quickly gear up in the weeks ahead to providing 3,000-4,000 shots per week — should the county get enough vaccines.”

Sonoma County lags behind other neighboring counties when it comes to getting students back to campus. According to The Press Democrat, “Sonoma County’s 68,000 school kids have been learning from home since the coronavirus took hold in mid-March. Stuck in purple, the most restrictive tier of the state’s reopening plan and indicative of widespread transmission of the virus, Sonoma County has watched students in Napa, Marin, Lake and now Mendocino reach critical thresholds that allow for a return to in-person learning.

One of the key thresholds: reducing a county’s adjusted 7-day case rate per 100,000 residents below 25 for five days straight. Hitting that mark is a critical milestone before prekindergarten to sixth grade students can return to campuses in a modified format.”

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